Four Hypotheses

These consistent findings about the decline in bullying during the post-elementary school years made researchers wonder: (1) Why reports of being bullied decrease with age? and (2) Is this a real decrease? Smith and Levan (1995) proposed four possible explanations:

Hypothesis 1:  Younger children have more older students in school
 with them who are in a position to bully them.

 Hypothesis 2:  Younger children have not yet been socialized into
 understanding that they should not bully others.

 Hypothesis 3:  Younger children have not yet acquired the social and
 assertiveness skills to deal effectively with bullying incidents
 and discourage further bullying.

Hypothesis 4:  Younger children have a different definition of what bullying is,
 which changes as they get older.

After conducting new analyses on Whitney and Smith's existing bullying data (1993) and conducting two additional studies to obtain new data, Smith, Madsen, and Moody (1999) determined that Hypotheses 1 and 3 were the two major explanations, while Hypotheses 2 and 4 appeared to be minor explanations for the age decline in bullying. In other words, they all seem to help explain the age decline, but no single hypothesis provides a definitive answer. Furthermore, while the proportion of children who use physical aggression seems to decline with age and maturation, the proportion of children who use verbal and indirect forms of aggression seems to increase during childhood and early adolescence. The relationship between age and bullying is clearly complex; the most important point to keep in mind is that bullying occurs across the K-12 grade range, and is problematic for all involved no matter how it might change over time.